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Apple and Google Drop Patent Suits

But the future is cloudy

Apple and Google on Friday filed joint motions to dismiss all of the over 20 patent-related lawsuits the two firms have against each other. And although they also announced that they will now collaborate on patent reform, Apple and Google will not be cross-licensing each other's patents. Such a deal would have been a blockbuster game-changer.

"Apple and Google have agreed to dismiss all the current lawsuits that exist directly between the two companies," a joint statement reads. "Apple and Google have also agreed to work together in some areas of patent reform. The agreement does not include a cross license."

The cynic will note that this move in many ways marks an end to Apple's "holy war" against Google, which ex-Apple CEO Steve Jobs infamously saw as a thief and copier. But it also marks a pragmatic change of strategy that could still have broad implications throughout the mobile computing world. And it's a step that was perhaps only possible thanks to the calmer, less aegis of current Apple CEO Tim Cook.

To date, Apple's struggles with Google have been mostly fought indirectly via the hardware companies that license Google's Android OS and mobile technologies and sell them in products that compete with the iPhone and iPad. And although Apple has prevailed in the most important of these ventures—its series of lawsuits against Samsung being the most obvious example—the legal battles are long, costly, and don't provide much in the way of substantive relief. And by the time they wrap up, each of the companies involved has already shipped new generations of devices.

But when Google bought handset maker Motorola Mobility in 2012, it inherited two other things: The firm's presumably valuable trove of mobile industry patents and a series of patent infringement lawsuits with Apple. So although Google announced that it would sell Motorola's handset business to Lenovo earlier this year, it also kept most of Motorola's patents for itself. As well as the Apple lawsuits that go with them.

With those legal battles now behind them, it's possible that Google and Apple—which together dominate the mobile computing market—could begin working to settle other patent infringement cases that are currently crippling the market. Perhaps Apple could settle with Samsung next, ending the industry's biggest legal fight.

The lack of patent cross-licensing is perhaps notable. When Apple settled a series of patent infringement suits with HTC, those two firms did agree to cross-license each other's mobile industry patents. But that was the first and only time Apple has agreed to such a deal with an Android handset maker. A cross-licensing agreement with Google, which makes Android, would of course an even bigger step, perhaps one that even Mr. Cook is not willing to make. At least not yet.

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